Unfinished Churches in Italy: Lessons in Project Management

Imagine leading a project involving hundreds of workers, no email, lots of big egos, and with a timeline of several hundred years. And yet many such art & architecture projects have been very (!) successfully completed in Italy over the last several thousand years (hence: appreciative tourists).

But it does make sense that some projects wouldn’t be as well executed as others: political errors, funding challenges, or a change in management could cause a building to remain half-finished. All of which means: you can’t necessarily judge a church by its façade. The churches below are very impressive on the inside but with façades that took the hit from project management errors.


Unfinished Church in Italy example 1:

“What Was the Plan Again?” San Lorenzo in Florence

Flickr rogilde

“The Guardian” by Rogilde used with permission

Begun in 1419, this church is attributed to the famous architect Brunelleschi, but due to a change in management and a lack of funds, the only part of his design that was actually implemented is the transept. Then, 100 years into the project, Michelangelo was commissioned by the Pope to design a façade out of white marble, which he did, but (as you can see) was never added. Michelangelo did however build an internal façade, and funds are currently being raised to complete the external façade according to his specification.


Unfinished church example 2:

“Can’t Come to Work, I’ve Got the Plague”: San Fortunato in Todi, Umbria

San Fortunato, Todi, Italy

Photo by AC via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0



Construction of this church started in 1292 but was stopped when the plague hit in 1348. The lower part of the façade was finished 100 years later. The art and wooden choir inside are worth a visit. Okay I guess when your whole team and your whole backup team are sick with the plague, it’s more unlucky than bad planning. But they still didn’t manage to finish the façade after everyone got healthy.


Unfinished church example 3:

“It was nobody’s fault”

San marcuola beachcomber flickr

“San Marcuola” by Steve Knight used with permission

There are lots of examples here!


Unfinished church example 4.

“Oops I Ticked Off the Pope”: Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna


San Petronio, Bologna, Italy

“Basilica di San Petronio” by Pedro via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Construction of this Basilica began in the 14th century and lasted several hundred years. Then 120 years into the project, the city of Bologna decided the Basilica could rival St. Peter’s in Rome, in size, footprint, and ornamentation. The building project immediately lost the support of the Pope, and the proposed Latin cross design was never finished, so the church is in the shape of a T. And none of the many proposals for finishing the façade were accepted.
However the church has still had a long and important history. And when you visit the inside, you’ll see that it had a big (just not big enough) budget: there are incredible stained glass windows, marble walls and ornamentation, two organs, frescoes, an amazing altar, the longest sundial in the world. All this, and a capacity of 28,000 people.


Photo of San Petronio by Il CamaPhoto of San Lorenzo by Rogilde; Photo of San Fortunato by Gaspa; Photo of San Marcuola by Steve Knight

Client Testimonials

"We had a wonderful trip! We did so many amazing things and experienced many wonderful places yet never felt like..."

"We thank you so much for all you gave us, guided us to, arranged for, and detailed for us. Not..."

"We are in love with Venice and the Dolomites. The ski adventure was amazing and beyond anything we could have..."

"Absolutely everything that you planned went off without a hitch. Every tour, every restaurant, every train and activity came through..."

"Thank you again from all three of us for your help in planning such a delightful trip. I know that..."

"Madeline carefully planned a fabulous, personalized 19 day itinerary (Lake Garda, Dolomites, N/S Tuscany, Rome) that enabled us to be..."

Read More Client Testimonials

Italy Advice & Tips In Your Inbox

Italy Advice & Tips In Your Inbox

Italy Advice & Tips In Your Inbox

Join our mailing list to get the free Driving In Italy eBook

Your name(Required)

Going Somewhere Other Than Italy?

The Travel Expert Network

Check out the Travel Expert Network where you’ll find Certified Travel Experts™ like us ready to plan custom bucket trips for you all over the world!

Visit the Travel Expert Network →

Office Locations

San Francisco
+1 773 621-3024
Contact San Francisco

+39 320 028 6827
Contact Milan

+39 331 222 2349
Contact Rome

Free Driving In Italy eBook
Start Dreaming About Your Next Italy Trip

Start Dreaming About Your Next Italy Trip

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Your name(Required)